Makhdoom Syed Saleh Hayat, the president of the Pakistan Football Association (PFF), met with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on Tuesday to discuss the devastating floods that have laid waste to whole swathes of the country.
“These are the worst floods in the history in south Asia,” said Mr Hayat. “The damage in terms of infrastructure and displaced persons is huge. Some 20 million of Pakistan’s population of 174 million have been affected.”
In a report released last Sunday the United Nations estimated that 17.6 million people have been affected by the floods, with eight million of them requiring immediate humanitarian assistance. In total, the flooding covered 160,000 km² of land, an area larger than England, and some 3.4 million hectares of crops have been lost.
“We urgently need medicines and the resources to provide a meal a day to 20 million people,” alerted Mr Hayat. “We also need to remember that 1,500 people have died in the floods, among them a former Pakistani football star.”
According to the UN, 1.2 million homes have been destroyed or damaged and around 4.8 million people are now without shelter. “People have lost their homes,” explained the Pakistan FA chief. “And most of them made a living from agriculture, which has now been taken away from them. People might be able to go home if it doesn’t rain in the next three weeks, but they are going to need shelter and the resources they need to survive.”
Blatter addressed the need for the football family to lend a helping hand to Pakistan in a letter he wrote last month. “We are at the disposal of both you and your association,” he said. “We wish to help and support you and would like to know what we can do to be of use to you.”
According to Mr Hayat, the floods have not spared the country’s footballing infrastructures either: “Pitches and training academies in 35 districts have been destroyed and many families with connections to the game have lost loved ones. FIFA are going to send out a team to assess the damage, which will then give us the opportunity to say what kind of assistance we need and how much.”
That assistance will involve rebuilding the country’s damaged footballing infrastructures, reopening the Football For Hope training courses (first introduced in 2005), and starting construction projects from scratch again. “President Hayat has told me how crucial FIFA’s support is in both material and psychological terms in helping his country recover from these dreadful events,” said Blatter following the conclusion of the meeting.
Mr Hayat’s immediate wish is to get the Pakistani Premier League up and running again. Due to get under way in July, the new season is now scheduled to commence in mid-September, although playable pitches still need to be located. “Football is very popular in our country,” he said. “We have over 100,000 registered players and many others who are not. We need to get them involved in the task of rebuilding communities. That is our goal.”
“The reaction of the football family in general and FIFA in particular has provided us with hugely valuable psychological support, quite apart from material resources,” he concluded. “After all, hope is the key to helping the people of Pakistan get back to normality.”